Private Mays’ medal returns to family in New Zealand

AN unassuming charity shop purchase evolved into the global search for the long-lost family of a World War I soldier from Saddleworth.

Lyn Griffin, whose father had recently passed away, was sorting through his belongings when she came across a medal he had bought several years ago.

Curious to learn more, she posted her find on Facebook in the hopes of finding out more about the soldier to whom it was presented.

George Mays

Frank Harrop, who volunteers with the Friends of Stalybridge War Memorial, picked up on the post which immediately piqued his interest.

He said: “Lyn had identified the soldier as Private George Mays, 4th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, and wanted to return the medal to his surviving family.

“This really grabbed my attention so I started making enquiries, but I couldn’t find any records of him being killed in action or any traces of him in the service and pensions records.

“As a last resort, I checked medal cards to see if I could find anything and after a few more messages with Lyn we managed to identify the regimental number on the medal as 52531.”

With this information in hand, Frank was able to start building up a picture of Private Mays’ life.

He was born on December 17, 1898 to Tom and Emma Mays, who were married at St Chad’s Church in Saddleworth on May 12, 1896. He was just 15 years old when the First World War broke out.

Private Mays was a stretcher bearer in the 4th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment; stretcher bearers were usually the first to reach wounded soldiers and administer first aid on the battlefield.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for rescuing five men who became trapped in the dug-out of a battery that was being shelled.

As the relentless bombardment continued the dug-out was filling with gas, but Private Mays worked tirelessly for four hours to free the buried men.

Frank said: “Now that we had a clearer picture of who this man was, I was able to locate records on Ancestry that were a match for Private Mays’ family.

“Sadly, he doesn’t have any surviving relatives in the UK. His wife Martha died in 1970 and his daughter Mary died unmarried in 2002.

“But he does have relatives in Auckland, New Zealand. I have since communicated this back to Lyn and I’m really happy to report she is in the process of returning George’s medal to them.”

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